Zoom meeting: behind the scenes at Goodwood Speedweek

Steve Cropley Land Rover parade

Range Rover Drivable Chassis (DC) is “essentially a vehicle with all the running gear of a 1970 Range Rover but no body whatsoever”

Goodwood replaced its three annual festivals this year with a behind-closed-doors event broadcast online for free

It’s freezing. The sun is bright but low, a very fresh morning breeze is sweeping across the Goodwood greenery from the sea and I’m sitting in what seems like the most exposed driving seat in the entire Northern Hemisphere: the solitary bucket of an early Range Rover Drivable Chassis (DC), essentially a vehicle with all the running gear of a 1970 Range Rover but no body whatsoever.

I’m about to drive this contraption on a lap of the Goodwood Motor Circuit at the head of a 50-vehicle parade to mark the half-century of Britain’s king off-roader. It’s one of three built at the end of the 1960s to demonstrate to Land Rover corporate traditionalists how the soon-to-launch Range Rover’s newfangled coil-sprung, self-levelled suspension and permanent four-wheel drive system would work. Only two DCs still exist, and they have become important industrial artefacts, so I’m honoured to be allowed behind the wheel. All around me are better-qualified Range Roverists who would kill for this opportunity.

A couple of months ago, any kind of Goodwood gathering would have been out of the question. The fine old estate’s three annual flagship motoring events had been summarily cancelled. Their founder, the Duke of Richmond, was appealing to his members and backers to form a new group, the Goodwood Supporters’ Association, to help stave off impending financial difficulties for the estate – an extraordinary turn of events for an organisation always associated with opulence.

Still, it must have worked. The concept of the Goodwood Speedweek was hurriedly born as an online spectacle with no crowds and no tickets, just an essential cast consisting of real live racers, key supporters, some members of the media and an imaginative programme based much more on goodwill and hard work than money. And it soon emerged that part of that programme would be anniversaries.

My mission on this pre-race day – Thursday – was first to parade the DC, then to join an Audi group celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Quattro’s launch with a Hillclimb procession, a lunch in Goodwood House and finally a ‘brisk’ circuit parade, this time of Quattro models of various persuasions. For this, I was furnished with an early-build 2008 Audi R8 Quattro, one of Audi UK’s fine fleet of heritage cars, which I had driven in the dark early morning from Gloucestershire.

But first the Range Rovers. After assembly in Goodwood House’s fetchingly named Ballroom Car Park, our convoy proceeded down the drive at 10am sharp, turned left for half a mile on Kennel Hill, went across a roundabout and turned right into the circuit. After photography (it was great to work again with former Autocar chief smudger Stan Papior) and a greeting from His Lordship (who was disarmingly delighted to see us all), we drove out onto the track, camera car in the lead.

The DC had been spitting and misfiring. Apparently these engines aren’t used to being unveiled to passing breezes and it was cold. But a tickle of the choke to 40mph or so cleared its throat, as its custodian from the Range Rover Register had assured me it would. In the driving, I wasn’t as cold as I had expected: the big alloy V8’s radiator kept throwing heat my way (propelled by the fan) and a fat silver silencer just below and behind my right heel was soon dispensing heat as well.

I might have expected the dominant smell on my three-mile drive to have been of freshly mown grass verges, but it was all unburned exhaust gas – a whiff we’re simply not used to nowadays. Clearly, one reason for the hideous fuel economy of early Range Rovers (when I owned one, it kept me poor on weekend jaunts) was that large proportions of their fuel flowed through their engines unignited…

Back in the car park, I returned the DC to its relieved Register custodian, took a short hike to the house and was soon back with my R8 and a throng of two dozen Quattro drivers, distinguished by the presence of Swedish rally maestro Stig Blomqvist and nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, who were both friendly and full of old Audi stories. Once into the cars, we did three runs in procession up the famous hillclimb for photos, videos, posterity and fun, getting faster as we went.

Apart from the Range Rover group, we had the house’s spacious aprons to ourselves. All remarked on the sheer pleasure of seeing (and smelling) Goodwood’s sunny slopes and overhanging trees, even if they missed the throng. The marshals waved at us drivers, just as they always do at the Festival of Speed, and for a refreshing hour all seemed entirely right with the world.

That impression was maintained while we took a fine but simple lunch in the house’s front dining room where Blomqvist and Kristensen stood and chatted for 15 minutes about their exploits. It turned out that they already knew one another quite well. The Le Mans ace recalled the rally champion’s never-to-be-forgotten reply when he asked which driving surface he preferred: Tarmac, snow or gravel. “On the whole,” said Stig in his shy Swedish way, “I prefer to be airborne…”

We took the familiar Kennel Hill route back to the circuit with our cars arranged in date order, after which (with minimal finger-wagging from Goodwood’s good-humoured marshals about not trying too hard in potent cars while not wearing helmets) we were allowed a couple of laps of the fast, flowing circuit. I always think that lap of what was once RAF Westhampnett’s perimeter roads was designed for minds and eyes that work like mine: I’m not remotely quick, but my satisfaction of getting the line right is enormous.

This was where my 60,000-mile, 13-year-old R8 came alive, demonstrating in five fast miles its poise, compactness, enduringly modern levels of grip, sweet steering and spaceframe rigidity. The 420bhp naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 dominated proceedings, of course, especially since this one was linked to the excellent six-speed manual gearbox with its glorious, labour-of-love, gated change. You can get a 600bhp-plus V10, as most people know, but I lost count of Audi aficionados who kept telling me “the V8 is the one to have”.

We messed about for most of the afternoon, watching cars new and old practising, running up or just getting ready. Kristensen, ever-amicable, hurled some of us around the circuit as passengers in the latest Nürburgring-refined, limited-edition, V10-powered R8, called the Green Hell.

There weren’t many people about on a normal Goodwood scale, but there were still enough to make a kind of car lovers’ quorum. And enough to make the thing look good online, I suspect, which is where this year’s audience was. But how great to see the Duke’s unquenchable sense of enterprise – and sheer love for Goodwood motorsport – rewarded by shining mid-October weather.

Eventually I drove my R8 away home, entirely convinced of the validity of this special event that has been hatched out of adversity. Here was proof of something that I’ve known since the first Festival of Speed in 1993: Goodwood imposes a delicious feeling on its visitors that I can only describe as rightness, even in depressing times. It’s the unique mix of sights, sounds, smells and, most of all, warmth of contact (not too close) with people like you that does the trick. I will savour my visits to this hallowed place all the more when this crisis is a thing of the past.

Speedweek’s shootouts and races

The one-off Shootout on the circuit lost its star attraction with the withdrawal of the Volkswagen ID R due to coronavirus-based travel concerns, but the diverse range of machinery – spanning historic Formula 1 cars to saloon racers – that did take part in the single-lap time trial put on a spectacular show.

The goal was to beat Nick Padmore’s Goodwood lap record of 1min 18.217sec, set in a Lola T70 Spyder. That mark got shattered, and the driver who eventually went quickest was… Nick Padmore. Armed with a 1989 Arrows-Ford A11 F1 car, he lapped the 2.367-mile circuit in just 1min 9.914sec.

The event also featured many of the races usually held during the Goodwood Revival, with legendary drivers showing their skills in legendary cars. The marquee race was the one-hour RAC TT, which was won by the 1963 Lister-Jaguar of Frederic Wakeman and multiple Le Mans winner André Lotterer.

Goodwood’s evolution

Pausing periodically to savour the V10 bark of a passing Lamborghini Huracán, the Duke of Richmond hinted at the impact that Speedweek will have on Goodwood’s usual motoring calendar.

“We realised that we wouldn’t be able to have a crowd,” he said, “but for horse racing, we’ve been running without crowds all year, so we know a little bit about it. We had been pushing Goodwood Road and Racing online very hard for a long time, and we have a huge following around the world, so we felt there was a huge opportunity to do something different and to try something out. We designed the whole event for TV.”

Despite the conspicuous absence of some 200,000 punters, Speedweek held lessons for the future. As His Grace put it: “Having had the fun of putting it together, we’ve all realised just how powerful the content is. We will never do the Festival of Speed or Revival the same way again.”

He elaborated: “We have so much to say at the Festival of Speed in three days, with 500 cars from all over the world, and we end up not saying a lot of it, because there just isn’t enough time.”

Ramping up digital output over the course of the year is intended to make Goodwood’s annual events “the full stops at the end of a 365-day media experience”.

Star cars

Lotus Evija: Two versions of the new 1923bhp electric hypercar were on track at Goodwood: one yellow prototype and one liveried in the famed John Player Special black and gold that was run by the Lotus Formula 1 team.

Joest Porsche WSC-95: Built using a Jaguar XJR-14 chassis and a Porsche flat six by privateer Joest, the WSC-95 starred in a display of Porsche Le Mans racers. Tom Kristensen drove it for the first time since his first win in 1997.

Ford Mustang Mach-E 1400: This one-off version of Ford’s new electric SUV, which has seven motors to produce ludicrous power, proved EVs can make smoke after all – when their tyres are protesting at the driving of drift king Vaughn Gittin Jr.

Ford Galaxie 500: Several Galaxies took part in the St Mary’s Trophy for 1960-1966 saloons, but none more spectacular than the one hustled at lurid angles by Stig Blomqvist, who beat a host of famous tin-top drivers to win race one.

Lotus-Climax 18: A celebration of the F1 championship’s 70th birthday featured a host of stunning and significant machines. Jackie Stewart drove the 18 that Stirling Moss used at Monaco in 1960 to take Lotus’s first grand prix win.


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Audi R8 Green Hell is limited-run special of 611bhp supercar

Source: Autocar

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